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Co-Lin women meet Southwest in finals tonight

WESSON – Say what you want about the 2002-03 Copiah-Lincoln LadyWolves, but these girls can play the game of basketball. Theyproved it again to the nationally-ranked Pearl River Lady WildcatsWednesday night with a near-flawless 69-54 victory in thesemifinals of the MACJC State Tournament.

Co-Lin will play Southwest in the ladies championship tonight at6:00 p.m. in Mullen Gymnasium. Southwest edged Delta 77-73 intriple overtime in the other semifinals game. This will mark thethird meeting between the two ancient rivals this season and thesecond straight state championship final between them.

In the men’s finals tonight, Pearl River plays Northwest at7:45. Pearl River defeated Mississippi Delta 75-74 and Northwestbeat East Central 99-97 in the semifinals.

“It’s going to be another hard one,” said Co-Lin sophomore guardTiania Burns about tonight’s state championship showdown. “We’vebeaten them twice this year and it’s always harder to beat a teamthree times. We’ve just got to stay focused and continue to playteam basketball and we’ll be okay.”

Burns the 5-8, All-American standout from Nashville, Tenn.,wasn’t going to let her No. 3-ranked Lady Wolves (27-0) be deniedafter struggling to a 28-26 halftime lead. She used the first fiveminutes of the second frame to showcase her aggression as well asher impressive talents with jumpers, steals, and behind-the-backassists which sent Pearl River (20-7) reeling.

“We just played together as a team tonight and made our shots,”added Burns. “We’ve done this all season and we weren’t going tochange anything now.”

Burns and sophomore point guard Ayme Beeson carefully dissectedthe Lady Wildcats backcourt with pressure defense and craftyoffensive moves that broke Pearl River’s press defense. Co-Linmounted a 13-point, 56-43 lead with 6:06 to go.

Seeking an answer, Pearl River quickly cut the Lady Wolves’ leadto nine, 59-50, with 4:17 left in the game. The Lady Wildcats usedan Audosha Kelley trey and two Stephanie Gonzales steals and layupsfor the momentum-turning swing.

“We made a run late but it wasn’t enough.” said Gonzales. “They(Co-Lin) just wouldn’t give in, no matter the score.”

The Lady Wolves answered the Pearl River rally with anail-busting 6-0 run in the last two minutes to gain a 65-50advantage with 2:12 remaining. Co-Lin added two Shaquita Smithlayins for the final margin of victory.

“No matter how you slice it, we just took an old fashionwhipping” said a frustrated Pearl River general Ed Walley. “Wedidn’t execute and Co-Lin did. That was how this game went.”

Walley watched his Lady Wildcats turn the ball over 12 times inthe second half. Pearl River entered the contest ranked 19thnationally.

“We beat a very good Pearl River team tonight,” said Co-Lin headcoach Gwyn Young. “At the beginning of the season I thought themand Southwest would be the teams we would have to beat to winstate. It turns out I’m right.”

Young’s ladies were paced by Burns with a team-high 25 points,eight rebounds, six assists, and five steals. Brookhaven productNikki Blakely added 13 points and three rebounds. Smith finishedwith 10 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocked shots.

Leading the Lady Wildcats, was Kelley with 22 points, fiveboards, and three assists. Gonzales added nine points, sixrebounds, and two steals.